Authorities in Ukraine on Friday detained an individual in relation to the activities of Estonian-based NGO Slava Ukraini. The organization hit the headlines recently over the allegations of misused funds, prompting its former CEO, an elected Eesti 200 MP, to step down from the board on a temporary basis.
Oleksandr Tšernov (pictured), the man detained on the ground in Ukraine, is helping the authorities there with its inquiries. ERR reports that Tšernov is currently under house arrest, and is charged with having an anti-tank weapon in his possession, a charge which he says is trumped-up.
Ilmar Raag, who is a board member of Slava Ukraini, told ERR Saturday that Tšernov has also been providing information to the organization regarding potentially suspect transactions, while the detention is suspect, Raag says, since Tšernov is being held by a local police authority and not a national level one.
Portal Delfi (link in Estonian) on Saturday named another individual in Ukraine who relates to the case, namely Hennadi Vaskiv.
In a short written comment sent to ERR, Raag said: "I can confirm that Oleksandr Tšernov was one of the first people in Ukraine to provide us with information and documents about IC Construction and Hennadi Vaskiv."
NGO Slava Ukraini transferred €1.5 million in aid donations collected from Estonia to IC Construction in April. The firm, which last year reported a profit of €250,000 very likely has a fictitious owner, while its activity was tied exclusively to the Estonian NGO.
Raag claimed that Tšernov's actions showed that he was not involved in the alleged corruption in respect of IC Construction, and is in fact trying to help in establishing the facts of the matter.
"He (ie. Tšernov-ed.) is demonstration that not all Ukrainians are corrupt, and moreover, Ukrainians themselves are fighting against those who want to misappropriate the support intended for Ukraine for their own benefit," Raag went on.
Prior to being detained, Tšernov had been preparing to travel to Estonia, to help with investigations here.
In total, three investigations into Slava Ukraini's activities are underway – one in Ukraine and two in Estonia, in the latter case by the Prosecutor's Office and the NGO itself, respectively.
Hennadi Vaskiv is a former deputy mayor of Lviv, in western Ukraine, and was at one time Tšernov's boss there; Vaskiv later created IC Construction, again hiring Tšernov to work for him.
Tšernov allegedly also has a stake in the IC Construction which, portal Delfi reports, is suspected to have been involved in arms deal transactions.
Raag could provide no direct information on this episode, to ERR, mentioning the eastern Ukrainian city of Palvograd.
While working for IC Construction, Tšernov simultaneously worked for the All for Victory charity, Slava Ukraini's partner there.
Vaski allegedly transferred all aid project funds to IC Construction last fall, though Tšernov refused to participate in this activity, it is reported.
According to Raag, Tšernov continued to work in logistics and on IC Construction's payroll, while at the same time providing his Estonian partners information about IC Construction's activities, Delfi reports.
The Prosecutor's Office in Estonia initiated criminal proceedings on Tuesday, by way of investigation into the use of funds amassed by donations to Slava Ukraini in Estonia.
The proceedings related to the section of the Penal Code which deals with embezzlement, while Slava Ukraini's chief, Johanna-Maria Lehtme, was recalled from her post.
Lehtme, who issued a statement in response to her recall following the opening up of the investigation in Estonia, was elected to the Riigikogu from the ranks of Eesti 200 at the March 5 election; pre-election campaigning material expressly referenced her as a helper of Ukraine.
Tšernov: My life is endangered
ERR reports that Tšernov has apparently been charged with the illegal possession of firearms, while Tšernov himself says that he believes that an anti-tank RPG weapon and ammunition placed in his vehicle was a plant, adding he fears for his life.
Tšernov lawyer, Vadim Maltsev, said at a preliminary court hearing that weaponry allegedly found in his possession had nothing to do with him, adding that the investigation is an attempt to prevent the conduct of other criminal proceedings, ie. those relating to Slava Ukraini's partners.
ERR obtained the court materials with the aid of Ukraine's national broadcaster, Suspilne.
From the court materials that reached ERR with the help of the Ukrainian National Broadcasting Compan
Tšernov is quoted as having said: "I believe that this [investigation] is related to my previous work. It is being carried out in such a way as to remove me and prevent me from passing on the information I have about the owners of the [Slava Ukraini] foundation, both in Ukraine and in Estonia. I did not place [the RPG] into my car; I have never seen it, I didn't purchase it and I don't have any access to firearms. I'm convinced my life is in danger."
Tšernov said he tendered his resignation on March 27 and was let go the next day, after which point a military officer had started to search for him, he says.
He had met two law enforcement officials in Lviv on March 17, and again on March 18, and had passed on all he knew about transactions relating to Slava Ukraini, at that time.
He said he also told these officials about his concerns about his well-being, and, while the officials pledged to follow it up, they in fact did not, he says.
The search of Tšernov's vehicle by local officials in Ukraine Friday allegedly led to the discovery of a Soviet-made RPG-26 Aglen.
Editor's note: This article was updated to include comment from Oleksandr Tšernov and details on the current investigation in Ukraine. The article uses the Estonian spelling convention of Ukrainian Oleksandr Tšernov's second name, in order to avoid confusion.
Editor: Mait Ots, Andrew Whyte